Foods for a Healthy Heart
Are you looking to make some changes to your diet and lifestyle to promote a healthy heart? In honor of February being Heart Health Month, we are exploring some foods that you may not have considered to be heart and cardiovascular health promoting. Oatmeal
As you may know from their labels, the FDA allows manufacturers who use oats to make health claims about the grain on their products, to let consumers know that a diet high in oats can reduce the risk of heart disease. But, what exactly makes oatmeal so good for your heart?
- Beta-Glucan. The dietary fiber known as beta-glucan is found in oatmeal. It helps to lower cholesterol through aiding in the removal of bile acids from the body. One bowl of oatmeal for breakfast daily can lower cholesterol intake anywhere from 8 to 23 percent, significantly helping to reduce cholesterol, one of the biggest risk factors for a cardiovascular or heart disease event.
- Avenanthramides. These unique antioxidants found in oatmeal help protect the good low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in the body. This protection can also reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
- High in fiber. A bowl of fiber-rich oatmeal in the morning can help stabilize blood sugar throughout the day and prevent mid-morning energy crashes, which are typically associated with the consumption of refined sugars and carbs.
How to enjoy your oats?
- Oatmeal. A healthy and great way to start your day!
- Substitute oats when baking. You can replace up to one-third of the flour in a recipe with oats when making pancakes, muffins, quick breads, cookies, etc for an added dose of healthy fiber!
This highly nutritious leafy vegetable from Central and Southwestern Asia is great for the heart. Here's why:
Folate and potassium. Both folate and potassium are able to relieve high blood pressure or hypertension – key reasons as to why spinach is heart-healthy. Folate may also play a role in helping blood vessels to relax, improving blood flow and decreasing risk of cardiovascular health problems.
Lutein. This antioxidant carotenoid prevents and reduces atherosclerosis, the hardening of the arteries. Atherosclerosis is one of the main causes of heart attacks.
- Dark Color. Spinach owes its dark color to multiple phytochemicals, vitamins, and minerals all of which fight disease, protect against heart disease and preserve eyesight.
If you want to include spinach in your diet, have a look at this recipe for Arame with Spinach.
Kidney beans are recognizable by their kidney like shape and dark red skin. They are available throughout the year and are known for being healthy and high in protein. But what can kidney beans do to help you maintain a healthy heart?
- Fiber! Kidney beans are an excellent source of cholesterol-lowering fiber, helping to dramatically lower the risk of a heart disease or stroke event. The high fiber content of kidney beans also helps stabilize blood sugar levels, making kidney beans an excellent choice for individuals with diabetes, insulin resistance or hypoglycemia.
- Folate. Folate, as we mentioned before, helps to relieve high blood pressure. It does this through the lowering the levels of homocysteine in the body. Elevated levels of homocysteine in the blood are an independent risk factor for heart attack, stroke, and peripheral vascular disease, and are found in between 20-40% of patients with heart disease. For this reason, folate is very helpful for reducing risk of heart disease.
- Magnesium. Magnesium has the effect of relaxing veins and arteries, which improves the flow of blood, oxygen and nutrients throughout the body. Studies show that a deficiency of magnesium is not only associated with heart attacks, but also that immediately following a heart attack, lack of sufficient magnesium can promote free radical damage to the heart.
- Antioxidants. Kidney beans are among the highest antioxidant-rich foods out there! Antioxidants are believed to help prevent many kinds of diseases including heart disease by protecting cells in the body from damage caused by free radicals.
Here are a couple ways to enjoy kidney beans:
- Simmered dishes. Kidney beans work well in simmered dishes, such as chilli, since they absorb the flavors in which they are cooked.
- Boil thoroughly! Kidney beans can be toxic if they are not heated at boiling point for at least ten minutes – make sure to prepare them properly to avoid illness!
Second only to the strawberry, the blueberry is one of the most popular berries eaten in the USA. So, what kind of benefits can you expect?
- Anthocyanin. Anthocyanin is a flavonoid responsibly for the dark blue color and the high antioxidant properties of blueberries. Blueberries have the highest antioxidant capacity per serving of all fruits. Antioxidants are not only linked to heart-health benefits, but have anti-aging and anti-cancer properties.
- Pterostillbene. This compound found in blueberries has many of the same cholesterol-fighting properties as the antioxidant resveratrol, which is found in grapes and red wine. While both are found in blueberries, pterostillbene is responsible for the ability of blueberries to reduce cholesterol.
If you’re looking for a quick and easy way to include blueberries in your diet, why not try this vegan blueberry banana smoothie for breakfast or a midday snack?
Chocolate will forever be known to heal matters of the heart – sending endorphins to the brain that mimic the feeling of love! But, chocolate is heart healthy in a more literal sense as well.
- Antioxidants in dark chocolate. Not only is dark chocolate rich in taste, but it is also rich in antioxidants, which we know to have cholesterol-fighting abilities.
- Flavanols. The flavanols in dark chocolate may improve vascular health, with increased blood flow to the brain and heart.
Dark chocolate has been seen in studies to also lower the risk of stroke, lower blood pressure and bad (HDL) cholesterol. When incorporating dark chocolate into your diet, be sure to get high quality dark chocolate with at least 70% cacao. Try this healthy energy burst orange chocolate sundae for a refreshing dark chocolate treat!